Our women and girls re­main vul­ner­a­ble – #PlanForHer

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Jae­vion Nel­son is a youth de­vel­op­ment, HIV and hu­man rights ad­vo­cate. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and jae­vion@gmail.com.

THE TEN­DENCY of many ‘well­re­spected’ Ja­maicans to pre­tend it is a fal­lacy that women and girls face a plethora of so­cial and eco­nomic mal­adies which af­fect their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment is par­tic­u­larly hor­ri­fy­ing. I am out­raged by the habit. We can­not af­ford to sit by, pre­tend­ing as if sex­ism and pa­tri­archy have not and do not con­tinue to mete out grave in­jus­tices to women and girls, as well as stymie na­tional de­vel­op­ment.

The fact that fe­males are more likely to ma­tric­u­late to higher lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion and that Ja­maica is cel­e­brated as hav­ing the most fe­male man­agers does not sug­gest, in any way, that they have broken the glass ceil­ing and now live and work in spa­ces where gender equal­ity is main­streamed and guar­an­teed to ev­ery­one. I don’t deny that there has been a great deal of progress over the years but it is pre­pos­ter­ous to pre­tend ev­ery­thing is now all right. Our women and girls are still vul­ner­a­ble and we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­gen­der a bet­ter so­ci­ety for them to live in.

Ear­lier this week, I was par­tic­u­larly struck by the state­ments made by two of the coun­try’s best par­lia­men­tar­i­ans — Day­ton Camp­bell and Floyd Green— on the In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl Child.

Green, who was speak­ing at ‘I Am Glad I Am A Girl’s #PlanForHer’ fo­rum at the Univer­sity of the West Indies said, “De­spite much progress over the last few decades, in­clud­ing in their in­creased ma­tric­u­la­tion through var­i­ous lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion, girls con­tinue to be af­fected by a num­ber of so­cial and eco­nomic ills such as vi­o­lence, pa­tri­archy, sex­ual abuse and ex­ploita­tion, which con­tinue to put them at greater risk of be­ing un­em­ployed, trapped in poverty and have sub­stan­dard health and qual­ity of life. The sit­u­a­tion im­presses on us the crit­i­cal need to con­sider how well our laws, poli­cies and pro­grammes are work­ing to pro­vide girls with an av­enue to equally par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic life and oth­er­wise achieve per­sonal suc­cess.”

I sin­cerely wish some of us would un­tan­gle our­selves from all the cob­web of id­iocy that we have cre­ated, and ac­cept that the un­der­per­for­mance of men and boys has noth­ing to do with the em­pow­er­ment of women and girls. I am there­fore com­pelled to point out that we do not need an ‘In­ter­na­tional Day for the Boy Child’ (as peo­ple have been ask­ing) be­cause they are not be­ing marginalised.

Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans like Green and Camp­bell give me and many oth­ers hope about the fu­ture of our coun­try. We need more peo­ple like them as leg­is­la­tors to stand up for the rights of our women and girls.

We have an obli­ga­tion to en­sure girls in our coun­try do “not have to worry about sex­ual ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence, are not more likely to be un­em­ployed and be paid less when they grow up be­cause of their gender, and are em­pow­ered to be the best girl they can be, whether that means they’re an en­gi­neer, model, teacher, ar­chi­tect, hair­dresser, doc­tor, bus driver or politi­cian.”

If we can achieve this our fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties will be bet­ter off. As Green said, “The onus is on all of us to en­gen­der a so­ci­ety which sup­ports girls’ de­vel­op­ment.[...] We must see the se­cur­ing of their liveli­hood and well-be­ing as cru­cial to any strat­egy to move our coun­try from poverty to pros­per­ity.”

I would like to speak to the is­sue of the Ar­madale fire which re­sulted in seven girls dy­ing and sev­eral oth­ers in­jured. I am ex­cited about the rul­ing —jus­tice at last! I must thank the six sur­vivors of the fire at the Ar­madale Ju­ve­nile Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre in St Ann who, de­spite the odds against them, did not al­low our col­lec­tive si­lence to stand up for their rights and the lack of sup­port and time it would take to pur­sue le­gal reme­dies to chal­lenge the Govern­ment’s neg­li­gence and in­ep­ti­tude. It is a bloody shame that it took all of seven years for the mat­ter to be re­solved. It shouldn’t have even gone to the court. The find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions of the com­mis­sion of en­quiry were pretty clear.

Let us com­mit our­selves to­day to not be silent about in­jus­tice, to not turn a blind eye to the abuses be­ing meted out to peo­ple, to not be per­turbed un­less we are di­rectly af­fected.

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